Having spent a weekend revelling in some wonderfully satisfying music, it became increasingly apparent to Classic Melbourne that the role of community organisations devoted to music making is an essential ingredient in our vibrant cultural life. Opera companies, orchestras, choirs – professional, amateur and a blend of both – are all part of Melbourne’s rich musical offerings.
On Friday night it was a performance of Verdi’s Otello by CitiOpera in Glen Eira Town Hall. Perhaps this was not the most ideal venue, especially for such an ambitious project. The stage is small and boxy and the orchestra has to be placed on the floor at the same level as most of the audience. There were even children present, both in the audience and on stage – all behaving very well indeed. The orchestra was a mixture of professionals and amateurs with an emphasis on the latter; likewise the singers. And yet the performance contained a great deal to be admired.
The orchestra responded well to Gaetano Colajanni’s conducting and the presence of players such as the excellent Jacinta Dennett on harp and Rosia Pasteur leading the violas guaranteed some beautiful moments and greater cohesion. Gary Rowley as the villainous Iago is an experienced singer and actor of considerable accomplishment and was in fine voice, relishing his role. Dimitri Pronin as Otello and Martha George as Desdemona also had sufficient vocal and dramatic prowess to bring Verdi’s masterpiece to life.
Saturday night was a date with Zelman Symphony. As a community orchestra formed in 1906 and a precursor to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra it is probably the longest-lived Australian orchestra. Tended by a band of devoted volunteers, it seeks to promote talent and nurture audiences. The full house in the intimate atmosphere of Xavier College’s Performing Arts Centre reflected their success. Ji Won Kim played Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with an orchestra sufficiently skilled to make the occasion most enjoyable. Hoang Pham and Andrew Kawai, the winner and the People’s Choice from last year’s ABC Young Performer of the Year Award respectively, will be featured in the other two concerts in the series.
Other community orchestras associated with various Melbourne suburbs also perform a valuable service by promoting the enjoyment of classical music. Corpus Medicorum has really made its mark as a quality community orchestra. All those high achievers, who may well have chosen music as a career but have opted for medicine instead, demonstrate the importance of music in their lives. Obviously, doctors know best what is essential for a healthy body and mind.
Sunday afternoon was definitely intensive therapy for the spirit. The Melbourne Bach Choir was formed by Rick Prakhoff in 2005 to give an Easter performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and draws on singers of all ages throughout Melbourne’s extensive choral community. As with the Melbourne Philharmonic Choir, it is a large body of singers of varying ability but with plenty of enthusiasm. The quality of the orchestral players also varies, but there was some wonderful playing on Sunday, especially from the winds and Shaun Ng, a viola da gamba player from Sydney.
The soloists were among the best of Australia’s professional singers including Sally Anne Russell, Michael Lewis, Henry Choo and Andrew Collis. Jacqueline Porter was simply superb and I was amazed to find that Andrew Goodwin was singing the Evangelist for the first time. So keen was he to sing this part that he flew from Sydney at his own expense. It is little wonder, as I think Bach must have had him in mind when he composed the music, so expressively and beautifully did Goodwin sing it. The choir was in fine form, rising to the challenge of fast, complicated choruses in German with courage and energy.
My most astonishing encounter with community choirs came earlier this year with the Stonnington Symphony Orchestra (pictured) in the Malvern Gardens. I had wondered how Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus would be managed without any sign of a chorus. Lo and behold, the music began and Roy Theaker turned around to conduct a large proportion of the audience who stood up and sang from music illuminated by torches on miners helmets. All around the park there were groups of choristers from a dozen or so community choirs. It was simply thrilling and such a wonderful illustration of the role of music in our community: the joy of participation and the sharing of the profoundly human experience that is music.
Community music making? You would have to give it a five star rating.